It was disturbing to watch Robert Mueller, who has unselfishly served his country from Vietnam through FBI Director, being eviscerated by Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee. Just when one thinks Republicans reach bottom, they manage to find new depths.
On March 4, 1861, the first Republican president called on his countrymen to aspire to “the better angels of our nature.” Four years of a brutal civil wars never swayed Abraham Lincoln from that perspective of human dignity.
Better angels and the McCain Moment, when John McCain rebuked a Tea Party woman who had degraded his opponent by declaring without equivocation, “No Ma’am. Barack Obama is a good man,” are relics in a party in which many follow the lead of their leader.
The proclivity for destroying one’s opponent, however, pre-dates the current POTUS. Since Richard Nixon, Republicans have become practiced in the dark art. Nixon had his “dirty-trick” squad. Character assassination spiraled downward with Lee Atwater, George H. W. Bush’s 1988 campaign manager, and his infamous “Willie Horton ad.” In 2004, the spectacle of Republicans ridiculing John Kerry, who despite his anti-war politics as a veteran was a Vietnam War hero, remains fresh. A neologism—new word—arose from it: Swift-boating.
The goal of the Republican congressmen was not to poke holes in Mueller’s report and testimony but to destroy him. Emphatically prefacing a question or comment with “Respectfully! Respectfully!” in a loud, baritone voice is a sure indicator the speaker’s intent is not respect. If it wasn’t for the sad spectacle of watching a visibly exhausted, elderly American deserving of deference being pommeled, it would have been comic relief watching middle-aged manly men hyperventilate in hysterical histrionics. The Queens of Mean.
One imagines them projecting their inner frat-boy as they slammed shots at a local watering hole, boisterously bragging as they pounded their chests, “We kicked his a**!” Bully for the little men who demonstrably modeled unmanly behavior. Like Tin Fey with Sarah Palin, Saturday Night Live comedians could simply mimic their antics to parody them. No need to caricature.
American politics has never been a gentle sport. Our early history is replete with factions calling the other side horrific names and accusing them of the most bestial types of behavior. John Adams called Alexander Hamilton “the bastard son of a Scottish peddler.” Perhaps, Adams was getting even for being called “a hideous hermaphroditical character which has neither the force and firmness of a man, not the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.”
Swift-boating is character assassination of the vilest sort. It’s become endemic in rightwing political operations. That said, the challenge before us: When will the time come for us to rise to the better angels of our nature by exorcising the dark ones?
Last week, I wrote about how all it takes for bad to succeed is for good to remain silent. It is gratifying to see that such degrading deportment has not infected our Clear Creek politics. Still, quietude on part of public Republicans about the spectacle of their party’s leader and his acolytes and sycophants needs to end.
Respect for the dignity of the individual, especially for those who put their lives on the line at home and abroad so that we can live freely and securely, along with respect for the rule of law are requisites in a functioning democracy. For without them, trust is broken. And if we cannot trust each other, our goose is cooked.
Whether the person is the former FBI Director or an immigrant seeking shelter, he/she deserves to be treated respectfully. Barking “Respectfully!” at him doesn’t cut it.